Skip to Main Content

Data science program benefits all involved

For several years, alumna Katie Bakewell has been sharing her expertise with participants in UNF’s summer internship — Florida Data Science for Social Good. As students work with nonprofits to analyze data and solve problems, they benefit from Bakewell’s eight years of experience at NLP Logix, a Jacksonville data science company, where she is a Modeling and Analytics Team lead.
Yet, according to Bakewell, not only the students gain from the experience. “Mentoring the students absolutely helps me with my job,” she said. “Data science is a new field, so we’re hiring people who are fresh graduates. And we get interns every semester from UNF, and we are asking them to do work similar to the summer interns … so it helps us to understand the best way to teach the skills we have. It’s definitely mutually beneficial.”
Karthik Umapathy (left) and Dan RichardA one-of-a-kind program in Florida
UNF’s data science program began in 2017 with the vision and collaboration of Dr. Dan Richard, associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Karthikeyan Umapathy, associate professor of computing. Now, after six years of success, the program can boast providing real-world training to 44 interns who have created 21 data-driven solutions for nonprofit organizations. Modeled after a program created at the University of Chicago, UNF’s summer internship is the only one of its kind in Florida.  
For 12 weeks each summer, a team of six or seven interns flex their data science skills and social conscience as they solve difficult issues. The co-founders credit success to the quality of the students and the program’s volunteers — eight industry experts and 10 faculty advisers who meet with the interns every other week to answer questions and offer guidance. “We saw a theme emerge that ‘It takes a village,’" Richard said. “We had support from all of the mentors, the faculty leads and many others who help with the program. It really makes the difference in the success of the program.”
Victor Li, quantitative research manager at the Jacksonville Jaguars, has been advising the teams for several years and continues to be impressed with how quickly they are able to solve complicated tasks. He believes the UNF program successfully bridges the gap between classroom learning and the workplace. “Having real-world experience is so important in the field of data science, and for Dan and Karthik to create a program that combines the real-world experience while also helping out the nonprofits, is just an incredible alliance,” Li said.
As part of the Jaguars analytics team, Li assists all departments with their data needs to enhance decision-making and strategic planning. He is able to draw from his five years in the field to provide insights to the students, yet he also finds mentoring to be “100%” helpful to his own job. “One thing that’s interesting in the world of data science programming is it’s always changing,” Li said. “So, it’s helpful to be in a collaborative environment to hear everyone bringing in their new ideas. Just being in that environment is really conducive to staying up to date … and being able to explain concepts is sort of a muscle that needs to be trained and kept in shape too.”
Role of UNF Faculty Advisors
Dr. Georgette Dumont, associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, began to work with the UNF program in its first year and has missed only one summer while on sabbatical. Not only does the program fit well with her expertise in public and nonprofit management, but she’s also passionate about nonprofit organizations. “Over the past decade, nonprofit funders are increasingly asking for data that confirms the organization’s success,” Dumont said. “This internship is ideal because it’s connecting the University to the community and offering what the community needs,” she said. “I just love what they’re doing, and that’s why I keep coming back.”
She believes she brings the human aspect to the discussion, focusing on what the data means to the organization, the clients and the funders and finding ways to help students interpret the data through those lenses. In return, she believes faculty mentors also benefit by learning more about what is happening in the community.
Dr. Lakshmi Goel, professor and associate dean of the Coggin College of Business, has assisted with the program for four years. She has high praise for Umapathy and Richard and the tremendous level of support they personally provide for the interns, as well as connecting them with other experts to ensure their success.
Though she has a background in Information Systems and Analytics, she sees her role as making a business case for the data. How are we connecting this information to the organization’s mission and goals? “You can really get lost in the data,” Goel said. “And my role is to pull students back and make sure they are considering what the organization can do with the information … it must be aligned to what the company needs.”
Goel said she learns something from every project and gains the satisfaction that the University is providing real value to the community. “The talent for the area of data science is so expensive, which makes it hard for nonprofits to access,” she said. “This program gives these organizations something valuable they otherwise would not be able to afford.”
Big RevealInterns share thoughts on the program at the Big Reveal
The six interns attended the Big Reveal event at the end of August, which is a forum for the students and clients to share their projects and findings with the public. A member of the audience asked students what could be improved next year. Several said they would have enjoyed more in-person time rather than remote work, yet otherwise had only praise for the program. Here are a few comments:
  • Sara Milligan, Doctoral student in Philosophy, USF — I really don’t think there’s anything that could have been done better, and I really appreciate all of the hard work that Dan and Karthik and everyone else put into it to make it a really smooth, amazing learning experience for all of us.

  • Minakshi Sharma, Master of Public Health student, UNF — “Even though we were doing the internship online, I felt like we were all together at the same place at the same time. Whatever the problem we had, it was solved instantly … It was like everyone involved in this was there every time. And the professors were very helpful.”

  • Mahmoud Elbatouty, Bachelor of Science student, UNF — This program was amazing. The professors, and especially the resources we were given …”

  • Adhithyan Rangarajan, Master of Science student, USF — “The professors have been super helpful. They’ve gone above and beyond and helped us. And, also the clients and mentors have given us the right pointers when we needed it.”

  • Other interns: Abhishek Pancholi, Master of Science student, USF; Brian Ferdman, Master of Science student, UWF